The story is familiar: Forests are burning and oceans are rising because of climate change. Something needed to be done.
The solution? Cap-and-trade legislation that could be passed with large Democratic majorities.
The bill was the subject of countless hearings, dragging on for months and stuffed full of complex provisions for various specials interests—including ours. Claims of a new wave of clean-energy jobs that would revolutionize the rural economy were countered by charges that the bill would do
nothing for climate change and would devastate rural jobs and industry.
A motivated Republican opposition employed dilatory tactics to slow the bill, aided by nervous moderate Democrats leery of voting for a bill so controversial. The legislation went nowhere.
Sounds a lot like HB 2020 in the 2019 Oregon Legislative session, doesn’t it? Except this narrative happened a decade earlier in the U.S. Congress with a federal cap-andtrade bill that was a precursor to Oregon’s effort to impose a carbon-reduction regime.
The parallels between the two cap-and-trade bills are eerily similar. The 2009 bill pushed by congressional Democrats passed by a narrow margin, aided by Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s deal-making that had the bill being rewritten in pencil on the House floor to secure the necessary votes.
The 2009 version was both a low and high point for American’s electric cooperatives. Initially ignored by the majority when the bill was drafted, electric cooperatives flexed their political muscle and secured provisions that would have protected rural consumers from serious rate increases.
Oregon electric cooperatives were certainly not ignored in the 2019 version of cap and trade, yet rural Oregon never felt invested in the effort.
History will say the reason HB 2020 failed in Oregon was the result of Senate Republicans fleeing the state—or because three Senate Democrats had serious reservations for voting for the bill on the floor. But I think the larger truth lies in a lesson from a decade before, when the federal cap-and-trade bill met a similar fate.
That bill, like HB 2020, was dense, complicated and not easily explained. Like the forest fires they were supposed to prevent, these bills generated more heat than light and, like a heavy object in the rising oceans, ultimately sank under their own weight.